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News & Views Curation

March 31, 2009

Stimulating In Boston

$6.5 million in federal stimulus funds will go to Renew Boston for delivering energy efficiency and renewable energy services. $2.6 million will be in grants and a revolving loan fund. Plug in

London: Will Johnson Slash Staff?

According to leaked papers, London's Mayor Johnson may slash his climate and energy staff from ten to three. More here

Dems Do A Climate Bill

Congressmembers Waxman and Markey unveil a climate change and renewable energy bill. First look here & Draft Summary here

Climate Roulette

MIT posts a game of climate roulette to grasp the idea that risk management is the way to approach the climate challenge. Take a spin

March 30, 2009


The Obama Administration proposes an increase of 2 MPG in fuel efficiency for 2011 vehicles. How incremental!

Teeny-Weeny Greenie

The green stimulus part of Britian's proposed recovery plan adds up to a whopping 0.6 percent of the total. Look closely

Climate By The Numbers

China and India demand numerical GHG cuts by rich nations at global climate talks. Ac-countable?

Follow the $3.2 Billion

The federal stimulus statute created a $3.2 billion Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. Cities and counties could be big winners, with $1.9 billion in the offing. Lots of links

YMCA: Green Lodgings

A new YMCA lodge in upstate New York aims for a LEED gold rating. Go greenery

EU: Pumping Up Efficiency

By 2015, the EU wants only high efficiency radiator pumps on the market because conventional pumps that circulate hot water from boilers to radiators are big energy eaters. Stay tuned

March 28, 2009

Tipping Pointers

While use of the tipping point notion in climate science is open to debate, Revkin's latest DotEarth column is loaded with useful links. Point & click

March 27, 2009

$10 Billion For Energy Efficiency

A bill now in Congress would provide $10 billion over four years to fund energy efficiency alterations in existing homes and commercial buildings. Legal-eyes!

Flywheels Are Fly

NYISO, the administrator of the state's electric system, might allow energy-storing flywheels and batteries to connect to the power grid. Good news for renewables. Get technical

UK: Tax Risk For CHP

New combined heat and power work is threatened by proposed elimination of a British tax incentive. Learn more

Scalable Solutions: Green & Global

Even bigger than calls for green collar jobs, global green reindustrialization could offer scalable solutions to climate, energy and economic needs. Fine print

On The Beach

Scientists forecast killer heat conditions for Sydney Australia by 2060. Watch out mate

Demark Bets on US For Wind Power

Vestas, a Danish wind power company, has big plans for three new turbine manufacturing plants in Colorado. Plug in

March 26, 2009

Romm v Owens

Joe Romm calls 'Climate vs Economy' by David Owen in the current New Yorker 'irresponsible' and 'disinformation'. What's riling Romm?

Less Great Expectations

Obama insiders signal that domestic opposition may delay US entry into a new international climate pact. Deja vu

Rethinking Carbon

A Chinese think tank floats a GHG trading scheme based on a nation's emissions history. Mull it over

Stimulus=Green Renaissance?

Predictions of the demise of renewable energy businesses were premature. Green shoots up

What's Old Is News

The Preservation Green Lab for greening historic buildings in US cities starts in Seattle, San Francisco and Dubuque. That's historic!

March 25, 2009

The Bay Area Leads

San Francisco adopts and expands the Berkeley FIRST program to finance solar roofs and other energy efficiency plans. Go left coast!

Grow A 'Green Bank'

A law to establish a public corporation, with $10 billion in initial funding to develop renewable energy and energy efficiency technology is proposed in Congress. Check it out

Boom Or Bust Again?

While clean tech firms vie for new federal stimulus funds, it's already time to ask what can make them economically sustainable. Avoid the 80s

UK Green: Markets Won't Do It Alone

Former BP chief Lord Brown warns that without state intervention and public investment British markets will fail to combat climate change. Learn more

Will The Grid Love Coal?

'Economic dispatch' is the standard that selects the cheapest electricity for the grid. With a national grid, more coal-fired power could come to the northeast because of its lower cost. Look into it

Fact Checking

Just who are the folks that signed a Cato Institute climate-denier ad? Meta-analysis

March 24, 2009

Is Either/Or The Right Question?

Delve into an analysis of the latest Gallup poll which asked whether protecting the environment or economic growth was more important. Just asking

Getting to Yes?

While there's agreement about global emissions goals for the year 2050, there's no international consensus yet about how to get there. Follow up

Watch This

Breathing Earth is a moving image of where we're headed. Click

March 23, 2009

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Research reveals corporate members of CAP, a climate action advocacy group, made big contributions to Congressional climate deniers. Follow the $

Green Homes NYC

Some NYC co-op and condo residents are trying to convince their neighbors to go green. Stay tuned

Stimulating Your Neighborhood - Not

Fear of local opposition to stimulus-funded projects that provide green collar jobs must be faced. WSJ

March 20, 2009

Advanced Degress Advance Green

UC Berkeley fosters science and b-school links to move green tech from labs to markets. Get smart

What Do Amerians Want?

Unlike a recent Gallup poll, a Yale/George Mason University survey finds strong citizen support for fighting climate change. Learn more [3.4MB]

Forecast: Falling Carbon Prices

Based on recession conditions, CO2 EU market prices could sink by 27%. That's steep

RGGI's Third Auction

The March 2009 RGGI auction of CO2 allowances brings in $117,248.629.80. Learn more

NYISO-Why So Expensive?

The price of electricity in New York is sky high. Is someone gaming the system? Plug in or Listen up

March 19, 2009

Climate Brawls Heat Up

Breaking news from the front lines of the battles shaping up over US climate legislation. Tune in

Global Green Stars

Although just 2% of commercial buildings and .3% of hew homes are rated green in a recent report, photos and facts about seven of the world's high performers still thrill. Start here

What's Phenology?

Phenology is the relationship between physical conditions and the timing of ecological event; it's where the impact of climate change shows up in the biosphere. It gets weird

March 18, 2009

Utility Execs Urge Climate Action

Energy company CEO's want EU support for rapid progress on climate-friendly electricity, including nuclear and carbon capture technology. Details here

New Kid On The Block

Get a look at the new coalition of business, industry and environmental groups seeking national energy efficiency action. Plug in

Revolving Loans To Cut Home Energy Bills

Newly proposed federal legislation would create a $10 billion revolving loan fund to help homeowners pay for energy efficiency upgrades. Read it

Tax Carbon On Imports?

US Energy Secretary Chu sees value in imposing carbon tariffs after China issues trade warning. EU also interested in carbon tariffs.WSJ

China & US: Mind The Gap

Chinese diplomatic talks with the US produce no agreement on global climate change strategies. No!

March 17, 2009

Home Green Home: Romm v Revkin

Looking for handy tips on greening your home? First read the debate. Right or wrong

Green Skills For At-Risk Youth

California kicks off a job-training and public service program for 1,000 at-risk young adults to join the clean tech and green economy. Start here

Carbon's Crystal Ball

Tennessee lures two solar device makers by offering to pay part of any future tax on carbon emissions. Look into it

SF Wants Wave Power

Mayor Newsom launches an ocean wave power plan to supply 100 MW of electricity to San Francisco. Surf's up!

Won't Get There From Here

Scientists attack proposed UK climate targets and doubt government strategies. Look into it

The $100 Million Auction

This week's RGGI auction could bring in $100 million to cut GHG emissions in member states. It adds up

Does the Cost of PV Add Up?

A PV user spells out the costs and policies behind the price of power from the sun. Learn more

Payroll Taxes & Climate Change

What's the argument for cutting payroll taxes and (BTW) creating a carbon tax? Read on

March 16, 2009

Mike's Stimulus Tracker

NYC's got a website for tracking federal stimulus dollars for infrastructure, energy efficiency & more. Follow the $$

The Flooded Apple

Research finds that climate change will slow Atlantic Ocean currents. This will mean higher sea levels and more floods along the east coast. Watch out NYC

Mazria Testifies

Architecture 2030's Ed Mazria responds to Senators' questions about making buildings energy efficient. Here here

Will The Ferry Sink?

NY Waterways, on the brink of bankruptcy, is on the lookout for a government white knight. Ahoy

Maldives Go Carbon Neutral

The new president of the Maldives commits his climate-imperiled nation to a carbon-neutral path and show others the way. Wade in

March 13, 2009

What, We Worry?

A new Gallup poll tallies Americans' environmental anxieties. "Not only does global warming rank is the only issue for which public concern dropped significantly in the past year." Going, going

The Green Facade

Green urbanism is just a facade charges this erudite critic. Get deep

One And Only

Yes, NYC has one of everything, even a wind turbine on Staten Island. Turn, turn

Put The Check In The Mail

States will soon get $780 million in federal stimulus funds for energy efficiency projects. Stay tuned

Australian Climate Scheme In Trouble

The Australian government's climate cap & trade proposal faces opposition from both left and right. Find out why

RGGI Emissions Plunge 9%

With a steep recession-related drop in CO2 emissions from RGGI states, market prices could sink. Plug in

March 12, 2009

Legal Eagles Turn To Green

Lawyers examine the legal risks of building green and how to avoid problems. Set the bar

California Coast At Risk

Climate-induced sea-level rise poses grave risk to California's way of life. Pay attention

Kolbet's Climate

Environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert weighs in on the media, politics and climate scientists. It's dynamic

Rubber v Rail

A debate is brewing over whether fast buses or light rail is the best emerging mass transit option. Drive in

March 11, 2009

How To Get There From Here

A new report argues that by expanding use of available alternative energy and energy efficiency , the US can shrink its carbon emissions 23% by 2020 and 85% by 2050. Start here [1.4MB]

Van's The Man

Grist interviews Van Jones, the new White House good green jobs go-to guy. Look ahead

China Sees Green Lining In Economic Cloud

The Chinese government views environmental protection and cleaner cars as part of its economic stimulus plan. Learn more

Now It Adds Up

DOE claims that an arithmetic error derailed funding for a pilot coal fired power plant equipped with carbon capture and storage technology. Make up test?

March 10, 2009

The Deck Of Denial

Shuffle through a deck of climate deniers. Some deal

How Swede It Is

Sweden will raise taxes on CO2 emissions from conventional cars while exempting green and electric vehicles from taxation. Learn more

Start Counting

The EPA aims to make factories measure their GHG emissions. 10, 9, 8

In An Urban Greenery

Here's why folks who want to protect the planet should settle in cities. Come closer

Going Australian

The fires, heat and drought plaguing Australia are warning signs for the US. Look into it

DOE's Rising Energy Star

Energy Secretary Chu targets efficiency as the best way to cut energy use today and move toward a sustainable future. E&E PM [Subscribers only]

Stimulating NY

What could federal stimulus funding mean for environmental and energy progress in NY? Find out

March 09, 2009

Ex-Energy Chief Doubts Market Power

The former CEO of British Petroleum converts to market skepticism over the EU-ETS ability to curb climate change without government action. Learn more

Moving Carbon Around

Pipelines to transport captured CO2 to deep underground storage are not currently available in the US but the technology exists. Learn more

What's A Sector Solution?

Track this typology of three sectoral approaches to a post-Kyoto climate agreement. Fine print

Cost Of Carbon Controls Limits Use

An expert panel sees the cost of carbon capture and sequestration as the main obstacle using this technology at coal-fired power plants. Spend time here

March 07, 2009

Tax, Man!

The proposal to tax carbon rather than cap & trade it finds Congressional support, but not much. Start here

Paterson v RGGI: The Times Opines

If Governor Paterson gives utilities more free CO2 emissions permits it will broadcast "a bad signal to other states, which for years have looked to New York for leadership-not backsliding-on climate change". Editorial here

March 06, 2009

Up, Up, Up

The EPA's annual greenhouse gas inventory finds emissions rising 1.4% from 2006 to 2007, for an overall increase of 17.1% since 1990. Cold winters and warm summers blamed. Data here

Talking Climate

Senior Administration officials talk to Congress about climate legislation, but is Congress listening? Get the latest

Warm Water Havoc

A new study links a warming Atlantic Ocean to Hurricane Katrina and Amazon rain forest drought in 2005. Connect the dots

Korea's Eco-Paradigm Shift

South Korea launches a $32 billion green new deal for growing new jobs and new economic activity. Stay tuned

RGGI: Pollute For Free

NY's Governor Paterson might override the state's greenhouse gas market rules to give power plants more free allowances to emit CO2, overruling his own environmental agency. Stunned?

Spain: Wind Power At New Peak

Conventional power plants are challenged by Spain's soaring wind power output. Learn more

March 05, 2009

A Glass Act

While most public attention on big-city, high performance building is drawn to new construction with its emphasis on glassy, transparent facades, experts and climate advocates are raising penetrating questions about whether fashion and consumer demand are overshadowing more sustainable building design.

Buildings with glass skins proliferated and became icons of modernity decades before concerns over climate change and the geo-politics oil and natural gas became defining issues of our time although New York's late-lamented building boom made it transparently clear that shrinking the carbon footprint and easing the energy demands of our built environment simply weren't market-transforming forces. Even the impact of LEED, Energy Star, and other standards of high performance architecture exist more as the exceptions than the rules in our built environment. But a March 2009 panel at the New York Academy of Sciences shone a bright inquiring light onto the possibility that it's time to retire the glass-facade building as both icon and business-as-usual. The panel delved into questions like: can glass buildings be comfortable for occupants without the need for additional energy-intensive mechanical systems? If a glass facade building can meet current energy code requirements, is there a problem with the energy code? Do building professionals see emerging glass technologies that can cut deeply into building energy use? Put bluntly, can any glass building be green enough?

Since New York's historically mixed building stock hides some great lessons in green architecture in plain sight, the Sallan Foundation asked several thoughtful observers to nominate their favorite green buildings constructed over the last century.

Rick Bell, Executive Director of the New York Branch of the American Institute of Architects gave kudos to the lower-Manhattan Municipal Building, opened in 1913 and the 21st century's 4 Times Square. Just what is it that makes these buildings outstanding? According to Bell:

The Municipal Building is outstanding from an energy perspective for four reasons:
  1. large operable windows with angled dust and wind guards at the base that encourage people to actually open the windows
  2. operable transoms over the hallway doors, which encourage natural cross ventilation between what in many other more modern buildings are completely isolated spaces
  3. a million square feet of office space for elected officials (the Borough President and the Comptroller among others) and bureaucrats (including the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and its real estate operations, which presumably could be anywhere); the construction of this huge "back office" space helped to prevent the demolition of the 1812 Joseph Mangin-designed City Hall, saving energy in the best sense of the word.
  4. intermodal transit access — the building still sits atop three subway lines, with the City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge stop stairs literally coming up into the open South Arcade of the building; when the building was new, and until the early 1960's, the Brooklyn Bridge ramps also were accessed through the monumental arch at the end of Chambers Street. Many also remember the adjacent elevated subway line located near the present location of the Police Headquarters Building by Kelly & Gruzen. Intermodal public transit connections in a thirty-two story tower with a million square feet — way ahead of its time! Its surrounding sidewalks were also, reportedly, the first New York use of concrete as a sidewalk paving material.

4 Times Square, also known as the Conde Nast building, by Bruce Fowle, FAIA is distinguished by more modern energy saving characteristics, which have become routine in later nearby buildings from the Times Tower (FXFowle and the Renzo Piano Workshop) and the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park (Cook + Fox). Glazing, mechanical systems and controls, solar shading - the Green Giant was a harbinger when completed of things to come. As such it was what could be called an iconic or transformational building, one that set a pattern that others were to follow.

Energy engineer Adam Hinge named the 1940's Stuyvesant Town apartments as his top pick. Starting with an overview of local construction over the last century, he focused in on a legacy of building envelopes that offered good day-lighting with windows that opened and were deployed to provide natural cross-ventilation. As a thought experiment Hinge envisioned a customer satisfaction survey in the iconic Flatiron building to see if renters were happier before or after building renovations. In this context, he made the telling point that before the era of modern electric lights and air conditioning, architects were able to make building occupants comfortable. From a compatible perspective, Pratt-based urban planner Eva Hanhardt saw the need for a "local industrial archaeology" study. Such research would contribute to a richer understanding of architectural practices and transformations, as New York grew bigger and denser, by pinpointing the shift away from locally-manufactured building materials like stone, terra-cotta and brick to more energy-intensive materials like iron and steel.

Reflecting on his Stuyvesant Town choice, Hinge praised its architects and engineers for designing apartments that were high quality, affordable and relatively simple to operate and maintain. After World War II, energy wasn't cheap for consumers, so energy efficiency in heating, cooling and lighting was an important design goal. Hinge wasn't willing to put a newer building on his list because he would need at least five years of data to see which green buildings were best able to deliver on the promise of energy efficiency and a smaller carbon footprint. As it now stands, the US Green Building Council's LEED green ratings for new building are based more on design promises than actual performance. This means there is much to learn about the performance of green buildings opened over the last decade.

Green, affordable-housing architect Chris Benedict also insisted on the pressing need for data on the energy performance of the City's building stock, but she took a different tack in responding to the question what are your two favorite, greenest, most energy efficient buildings in New York City that have gone up in the last 100 years?

"My favorites are buildings that elegantly and beautifully meet the needs of the people and processes within them... while using the least amount of energy to meet the loads created by the use of the building. While the first part of my criteria is subjective, the energy use is calculated from a building's energy bills, divided by the square footage of the building. This calculation yields a number that can be compared to other buildings of the same use. Since energy bills are not made available to the public, even by the owners of "green buildings" in New York who make energy efficiency claims, I don't have enough information to choose two favorites!"

Let's be clear. Modernists and supporters of high performance buildings with transparent facades should not be thin-skinned about praise for buildings clad in stone, brick or terra cotta or misconstrue the views of Bell, Hinge, Hanhardt or Benedict. Each is a forceful proponent for making much more green architectural progress. For Hinge, energy audits of green building developments like Battery Park City would provide bundles of useful information on what new buildings are doing right. He's a supporter of energy efficient window replacement and on-site recharging plug-ins for hybrid cars. His to-do list also includes developing storm water reuse systems and better water conservation appliances. The education of staff and residents to support the long-term operations and management of green-designed buildings is another must.

Here is Bell's top-ten list of things to do or try for energy-reducing retrofits of existing buildings:
  1. light bulb replacement, compact fluorescents are cheap and easy
  2. motion detectors to limit artificial illumination to areas where activity occurs
  3. window replacement
  4. increased wall insulation, exterior if possible, interior if existing finishes can be maintained
  5. roof replacement with lighter colored materials or with accessible green roof
  6. green wall exterior additional cladding, which can be vegetation on framing systems that would not be considered as additional floor area for zoning purposes
  7. stair prompt posters to encourage people to "burn calories, not electricity"
  8. stair cosmetic redesign to encourage people to feel that emergency egress fire stairs can be used for normal everyday access
  9. magnetic hold-opens on fire doors linked to fire alarms and smoke alarms so that people are encouraged to use stairs, not elevators
  10. a ban on escalators such as those continually guzzling energy in such lobbies as that of the Hearst Building
and, one more for good measure:
  1. drill wells, like we did at the AIA's Center for Architecture, for a closed-loop geothermal system for both heating and cooling; get rid of the need for cooling towers and petroleum based mechanical systems

Benedict writes about two distinct but interrelated moves that top her list for energy retrofits in pretty much any type of building in New York City. "The first is retrofitting the mechanical system to have room-by-room thermostatic control and the second is to create an air barrier around the building. Energy use for heating and cooling cannot be managed without these two fundamental moves. Once they are achieved, appropriate decisions can be made about how, where and what kind of insulation could be installed, or if the insulation itself can be the air barrier. Some may balk at the extent of the work required to achieve these moves, but the survival of New York City will rely on creative, holistic, inventive solutions that economically incorporate them."

This Torchlight's small gallery of favorite high performance buildings, its caveats about what's still unknown and pointers to the work that lies ahead should serve as a reminder that there is no sign yet of the Mayor's legislative Deep Green Quartet that could forge the public policy instruments able to beef up what we know about the energy performance of New York's 950,000 existing buildings and apply that information toward upgrading their energy performance and shrinking the City's carbon footprint. In the same vein, local climate and high performance building advocates are eagerly awaiting release of the recommendations made by the "Greening the Code" Working Group hosted by the New York chapter of the US Green Building Council.

I'd like to end my Glass Act with a nod toward two great European glass innovations. First, the 1840's Parisian arcades immortalized by Walter Benjamin, with their glass roofs spanning narrow streets that invited strollers in and plate glass windows that tempted strollers with a view of goods for sale. While these 19th Century passageways could not be called buildings, they were early signs of the consumer culture still dominant today and the trophy towers to come, exemplified by the thin-skinned Seagram Building of 1958. With thanks to urban sociologist Christina Spellman, Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele opened in 1877 gets my second nod. The Galleria expanded the scale and lavishness of the Paris arcades and was prominently situated in the heart of the city between the opera house and the cathedral. Walking through the Galleria today resembles a promenade through the lobbies of contemporary glass-skinned towers in Manhattan or any global city. Only now, their iconic nature may be rendered ironic in a century that will be defined by climate change and the geopolitics of energy resources.

Note: Sallan wants to curate a bigger selection of high performance buildings. Send us examples of your favorites of the last hundred years and briefly explain your choices. We'll post them.

March 04, 2009

Manufacturing Climate Solutions

A new report commissioned by the AFL-CIO and the EDF highlights how to reuse industrial waste heat and cut 400 million metric tons of CO2. Blue & green

Nearly Neutral

Yale University misses its goal of building a carbon neutral structure but see how far Kroons Hall goes! Study up

Car Makers Show Green Auto

The Geneva Auto Show features energy efficient, CO2 cutting ideas from many car makers. Test drive

From Energy Star To Super Star

DOE plans a "superstar" rating for ultra-energy efficient appliances and may also raise overall efficiency ratings. Plug in

EU Split On Carbon Capture Funding

$6.3 billion in economic stimulus funding for carbon capture and sequestration development opens deep rifts among EU members. Learn more

Maldives: Climate SOS

The island nation, the Maldives, fears for its existence in a hotter world with higher sea levels, but it's not alone. Wade in

March 03, 2009

Pale Green Stimuli

Critics charge that global economic stimulus plans tilt toward high-carbon actions. Look into it

Where The Green Buildings Are

Get the newest list of US cities with the most Energy Star-rated buildings. Top ten

Senator Stalls Climate Nominations

NJ Senator Robert Menendez holds up confirmation of two presidential climate science advisers. His Cuban connection

No, Yours Is Bigger

A new study compares the carbon footprints of European political leaders. Size them up

Drill Baby, Drill

Drill for geothermal power as research finds it could be cheaper than coal power. (Psst - energy efficiency is cheaper still.) Hot stuff

Them's Fightin' Words

Ed Mazria, green building advocate, takes on the business-as-usual establishment. Gloves off!

March 02, 2009

Let No Crisis Go To Waste

Economists see a window of climate-saving opportunity in Obama's plan to resolve the fiscal crisis. Look in

It Costs Too Much

Electric utility claims Obama's carbon cap and trade plan can only burden consumers by putting a price on emissions permits. Shocking

UK: Are Car Makers Greenwashing?

Critics charge that auto makers' promises about alternate fuel and electric cars sound like greenwash for getting government funds. Come clean

Movement Moves On DC

The green student movement gathers at the Capitol to press for federal action on climate change and a sustainable economy. Will power shift?

March 01, 2009

Another Berkeley FIRST

Many urban eco-game changing ideas are born in Berkeley California. Despite some initial skepticism, many of our programs go on to be adopted in cities everywhere. Just a sampling of these Berkeley-spun ideas includes: a ban on Styrofoam, a switch to biodiesel for city vehicles, and curbside recycling. The City's latest first, however, may be it's most important innovation in relation to climate change.

What is Berkeley FIRST?
Berkeley FIRST (Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology) is an innovative renewable energy financing program designed to overcome the barriers to property owners' adoption of renewable energy technologies.

Many urban eco-game changing ideas are born in Berkeley California. Despite some initial skepticism, many of our programs go on to be adopted in cities everywhere. Just a sampling of these Berkeley-spun ideas includes: a ban on Styrofoam, a switch to biodiesel for city vehicles, and curbside recycling. The City's latest first, however, may be it's most important innovation in relation to climate change.

What is Berkeley FIRST?
Berkeley FIRST (Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology) is an innovative renewable energy financing program designed to overcome the barriers to property owners' adoption of renewable energy technologies. Berkeley FIRST was inspired by the fact many energy conscious property owners do not invest in energy efficiency because of the high upfront costs and long-term financial commitments. University of California/Berkeley Professor Dan Kammen uses a telling metaphor to explain this dilemma — he asks: "How many of us would have cell phones if we had to buy 20 years of minutes up front?"

In November 2007, the Berkeley City Council unanimously approved my proposal to develop Berkeley FIRST. The pilot program provides the upfront cost (projected average installation cost of about $25,000) of PV solar installation through the sale of municipal bonds. The bonds will be repaid over 20 years through the participant's property tax bills. Participation in the program is 100% voluntary and property owners pay for only the costs of their energy project.

The advantages of the Berkeley FIRST program for property owners are:
· Relatively little up-front cost to the property owner
· Up-front costs for the solar system are paid through a special tax on the property, and are amortized over 20 years.
· The tax obligation stays with the property, so if the property is transferred or sold, the new owners will pay the remaining tax obligation.

The advantage of Berkeley FIRST for local municipalities include:
· NO city subsidy or exposure to the City's General Fund because FIRST is based on California's Mello-Roos financing law.
· Partnership with a third party finance administrator, protecting the municipality from financial risk.
· This mechanism contributes to a municipality's climate and energy goals.
· All FIRST program costs can be paid out of bond proceeds.
· The program promotes the green economy.

The Hottest Ticket in Town?
Initial signs look good for the program's long-term success. At 9:00 a.m., November 5, 2008, in partnership with Renewable Funding LLC, Berkeley's third party administrator, the City of Berkeley opened the application process for its $1.5 million pilot program. At 9:10 a.m. the pilot sold out. To date, thirty-eight solar installation projects, evenly distributed throughout the city, have funding committed by Berkeley FIRST. During this pilot phase the City (with help from UC Berkeley's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab) will evaluate the program and determine whether another round of funding can be made available. The data collected during the evaluation phase will also be used to create a "How To" guide to be used by cities hoping to set up similar programs.

Where Did this Come From?
In November 2006, Berkeley voters forged a mandate for the City to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions by passing Measure G with over 81% of the vote. Since the passage of Measure G, I have worked with City staff and the community to prepare Berkeley's Climate Action Plan (CAP) — an emissions reduction plan with a goal of reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050.

Berkeley FIRST will play a very important role in working toward the goals of Measure G. Electricity and natural gas consumption in Berkeley's homes, businesses, industries and public institutions (including the City government) results in over 342,000 tons CO2e per year emitted into the atmosphere — about 53% of Berkeley's total GHG emissions. Residential energy consumption contributes about half of the total emissions from building energy use while energy consumption in non-residential buildings contributes the other half.

To achieve its interim emissions reduction target Berkeley must reduce the emissions that result from building energy use by 35% by 2020. Improving energy efficiency and adding solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal systems to Berkeley's buildings will go a long way toward reaching these ambitious goals. Without FIRST, our powerful financing tool, these goals would be very difficult to achieve.

Is There More?
If the initial pilot program is deemed successful, Berkeley staff will look to fund a second and larger round of financing for a phase two of the FIRST program. Our phase two goal is for participants to be able to fund energy efficiency improvements with this mechanism, including improved ducting, attic insulation, and hot water heaters. We also plan to include the ability to fund solar thermal (hot water) installation in future FIRST rollouts.

Who's Next?
As America moves into a new era of federal leadership, the need to lower our GHG emissions is coming to the forefront of political and economic discussions. To date, much of this dialogue has been centered on technological fixes to lower carbon emissions without much attention to the importance of innovative financing as a key lever of change. Berkeley FIRST will help fill this void and, could be Berkeley's single greatest contribution to reducing GHG emissions.

The impact of Berkeley FIRST is already expanding beyond our borders and one of the greatest advantages of this program is its scalability. Laws in several cities and states now provide a FIRST-style financing mechanism, and other states are pursuing legislation to enable the use of clean energy municipal financing. For example, programs in Palm Dessert, California, Boulder, Colorado and Babylon, New York have adopted Berkeley's financing initiative.

I am happy to report that perhaps yet another homegrown Berkeley FIRST will be coming to a city near you soon.

Tom Bates is the three-time Mayor of Berkeley, California.

Special thanks to Nils P. Moe, Assistant to the Mayor, Office of Mayor Tom Bates and Steve Rasmussen, Berkeley resident.